Race Review – Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra 2019

Last September I spent my birthday at the Endurancelife North York Moors Ultra. It had lots of climbing, but was a great event and we were blessed with fine weather. I enjoyed it so much I decided to enter the Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra the weekend before last. I’d been following a 20 week training plan for the Hardmoors 50, and this was the perfect distance at the perfect time to be my longest run before my taper for that.

Like all the Endurancelife runs, there are 10K, half/full marathon and ultra events all taking place on the same day with different start times. For the marathon and ultra runners sign on at Bamburgh Castle, are transported to Alnwick Castle by coach, then run back up the coast to Bamburgh. It looked like a great route on paper. People doing the ultra complete an additional loop of around eight miles to make up a distance of just over 35 miles.

I travelled up to Northumberland from York the night before the event. Accommodation in this area can be expensive, but I managed to find a really cheap Airbnb in a quiet village just a few miles from Bamburgh. Venturing into Seahouses for some carb loading chips at teatime, I noticed several Endurancelife course markers around town.

The next morning I headed out at 6.30 am to register at Bamburgh Castle by 7am. It was pretty cold at that time, but the weather forecast for the day was dry and bright. After a rather lengthy race briefing (fortunately inside a tent!) we boarded our coaches to Alnwick. The sun was rising over the sea and the whole area looked beautiful and a little mystical. I couldn’t wait to get going!

After disembarking at Alnwick Castle we set off at around 8.20 am.

The first six miles of the course were inland, mostly flat with a few undulations; a great warm-up, heading out towards the coast and the first checkpoint at Alnmouth. There are five checkpoints along the course, approximately six miles apart, where you have to dib in with your timing device.

Refreshments are available, but are somewhat limited, with just water to drink and jelly beans/custard creams to eat. I did get a bit fed up of custard creams by the end of the day! Participants are warned in the event manual that food and drink is limited, but I think for the entrance fee a couple more options could be provided.

However, that’s a minor quibble about what is otherwise a fantastic event. Once the course reached the coast, it gradually wound its way northwards, through picturesque villages such as Boulmer, Crastor and Beadnell. Quite a few miles are on sand, which I was a bit worried about as I thought it would be really hard work; but it was so firm it was actually quite nice to run on. We got our feet a bit wet in places; I’d carried a spare pair of socks in anticipation of this, but my Inov-8s dried out pretty well. The weather was perfect – cool and bright – and the scenery was amazing. We also had a tailwind for most of the day, which was brilliant.

After a while the leaders of the marathon (which had started about an hour after the ultra) started to come past us. It was amazing to see their pace! In some places the trail was quite narrow and we had to stand aside to let them by, but as I wasn’t gunning for time it was no great hardship. A little while later we started to mingle with runners in the half marathon and 10K too. I had some lovely chats with people along the way, which is always one of the best things about ultra runs. Not many people are in a hurry!

The added ‘ultra’ loop at the end of the marathon had quite a bit of road in it, but it was very quiet so not really a problem. We kind of ran in a big circle around the castle, which never seemed to get any closer until the last mile! Looking at my watch on this last section, I was determined to finish under seven hours, and just managed to squeak in at 6:59:48. I later received an email from the organisers to say I’d won my category. Sounds impressive, but there were only two FV55s in the ultra! I’m still taking it as a win though 🙂

The t-shirt and medal for this one aren’t really anything to write home about, if you’re bothered about that sort of thing. But having done two now, I can say that Endurancelife events are well organised and supported, and so well signed it’s virtually impossible to get lost. Northumberland would be a great first ultra, as there’s only 396 metres of elevation. It’s also a relatively easy way to acquire two UTMB points. My prize was a voucher for £10 off a future Endurancelife event, so I may well be back here next year!

 

Running Update and Hardmoors 50 Training

Hello! I know, it’s ages since I’ve written a blog post. Life’s been pretty hectic since Christmas: the combination of work, house renovation, college studies and ultra training have left me with very little free time. But I have still been running, so thought I’d just post a very brief update on what I’ve been up to. I’m currently training for the Hardmoors 50 in March, but have done a few hilly events along the way as I think it makes long runs a bit more fun.

Early in January I took part in my first ever cross country race, the Yorkshire Championships at Lightwater Valley. I was just there for the experience, but obviously many club runners take it very seriously, and there were some great performances from the top athletes – including Jonny Brownlee! We did five laps of an undulating course and  I loved it, even though it was really hard work and I wasn’t far off the back. Unfortunately diary clashes with other events meant I wasn’t able to do any other XC races this season, but I’d certainly like to do more next winter. I’d really recommend it to anyone. Don’t be afraid to give it a go – although you do have to be club member to enter.

The following week I ran the Temple Newsam Ten (miles, that is). I love this event, and have done it twice before. It’s great fun and good hilly training at the same time. I was amazed that I finished twelve minutes quicker than last year; then I remembered that last year I was just coming back from injury and had a cold, so that would explain it! The goody bag is always great here, with a long-sleeved top, medal, chocolate and crisps!

As I’ll be finishing the Hardmoors 50 in the dark I thought I’d better get some head torch practice in, so at the end of January I took part in my first ever dark race, the No Ego Challenge in Dalby Forest. This was a five miler on fire roads and forest trails which was quite steep and muddy in places. It poured down with rain throughout, but once I’d warmed up I didn’t really notice that and really enjoyed it. I’m back at Dalby for another dark run at the beginning of March which is part of the Dark Skies Festival.

Two weeks ago I gave myself a good beasting at the Hardmoors Saltburn Marathon. I did the half version of this last year. There’s always plenty of mud and some very steep hills! I felt absolutely done in at the end, but I’m sure it was excellent training!

Last weekend I ran the Harewood House Half – another event I really love and do each year. The course is hilly and beautiful, and the weather was great on the day, which is always a bonus! I expected to be a bit slow as my legs were still tired from Saltburn, but actually came in a bit quicker than expected, so hopefully all this hilly training is starting to pay off!

The day before Harewood I’d been to an ultra coaching day put on by Jayson and Kim Cavill, two amazing runners who are Cavill Coaching. It took place at the Yorkshire Cycle Hub, in the remote and beautiful location of Fryupdale on the North York Moors. Around 25 of us attended, and the day covered topics such as training, core/strength work and nutrition, as well as a social run round the gorgeous countryside where I got to try out some running poles. I really enjoyed it and certainly learned a few things I can put into practice, especially on the strength and conditioning front. I’m also going to get some poles. By the way, the Hub has a great café with excellent coffee and cake – I can certainly recommend it if you’re passing!

This weekend sees my longest training run before the Hardmoors 50, which is now scarily only three weeks away. I’m taking part in the Endurancelife Northumberland ultra, which is 35 miles along the gorgeous coastline from Alnwick to Bamburgh. The weather forecast looks superb for February, so I can’t wait to get up there.

And after that it’s a three week taper til the big 50. Yikes!

 

Race Review – Hardmoors Roseberry Topping Half Marathon 2018

I love Hardmoors events, so as soon as Roseberry Topping opened for entry I was in. Only the half this time mind you, as it would be December and the weather might be rubbish. At that point I hadn’t even looked at the route, so didn’t twig that we’d actually be going up and down Yorkshire’s own Matterhorn not once but twice. And I didn’t know about the Tees Link either, a steep, muddy slope that we’d have to go up on the way out and down on the way back. But, as someone once said, ignorance is bliss, isn’t it? It was only in the week before the event that I found out about the double ascent, descent, and noticed folk on the Hardmoors Facebook page saying that heavy rain had turned the Link into a sea of mud. OK then!

The race starts and finishes in Guisborough, at the Sea Cadets HQ. As usual, there was a marathon, half and 10K setting off at various times. After several days of rain, the weather on the day was gorgeous; bright and cold with only a little wind. We set off on a gentle incline out of town and through Guisborough Woods.

Much of the race takes place on the Cleveland Way, and to get up there the infamous Tees Link has to be negotiated. On this particular occasion the rain had turned it into a sea of mud.

Not only was it impossible to run up, it was quite a challenge to simply remain upright – and a fair few people didn’t! We slithered our way up, making very slow progress. I thought to myself how much easier this would be with poles to give you something to hang onto. We finally (literally) hauled ourselves over the top onto the Cleveland Way at High Cliff Nab. The view to the sea from the top was spectacular though. Myself and a girl I’d been chatting with couldn’t resist stopping to take photos of each other. And have a breather!

From there it was easier progress for a couple of miles, then we approached Roseberry Topping. This was an amazing sight, rising up against the blue sky with its distinctive curved summit. We ascended one side of it, went down another, came back up the same way and then descended a different route on the other side.

The whole thing was only about a mile, but took me nearly half an hour! Going up isn’t actually that bad, as there are large stones that almost form steps. Going down is a bit more treacherous, especially as the stones were wet, there were runners further ahead coming back up as we went down, as well as members of the general public with dogs/children etc to contend with. But it was quite fun! I didn’t hang around on the top, as it was quite windy and I didn’t want to get cold. Again, I wished I had poles for the descents. We then had some lovely downhill for a while, before another climb up to Captain Cook’s monument.

The course then undulated for a few miles until we turned back towards Guisborough. I was finding it tough and felt more tired that I thought I would. I was really glad I was only doing the half and not the full marathon! I began to wonder if I should have entered the Hardmoors 50 in March, which would be along similar terrain but a lot longer. I knew there was still time for me to withdraw my application and get most of my entry fee back. The kind of negative thoughts that creep in when you don’t feel too good!

At one point I got cramp in my inner thigh, which I’ve never had before and was horrible! Luckily it went off after a bit of rubbing, and towards the end I rallied a bit after taking a gel.

We then had the fun of coming back along the Tees Link, with more slipping and sliding down the slope. Everyone was in good spirits though, and we had a nice downhill run back into Guisborough. I even managed a bit of a ‘sprint’ finish! My time was 3:47 – my slowest half marathon ever, but also the hardest! I thought I’d been rubbish; then I found out later that my friend Robyn, who would normally knock off a road marathon in around three hours, had taken 6:20 for this one (and was third woman!) so I didn’t feel so bad. Everyone received a coveted Hardmoors t-shirt and medal, and the tea and mince pies afterwards were very welcome.

This is a great event, but one not to be underestimated. It’s a tough course, with a ten hour cut-off for the marathon, so don’t come expecting a PB. But if you like big hills – and mud – it’s a winner! I’m sure it must have been brilliant training. The day after, I woke up with a sore throat, which developed into a stinking cold, so I’m hoping that’s why I didn’t feel brilliant while I was running. I haven’t withdrawn my entry to the 50. But I am hoping Santa will bring me some good poles…

Win a Copy of the Cook Book In Their Footsteps

If there’s one thing I love as much as running it’s cake. Some would say I only run to remain cake neutral! So I love the look of In Their Footsteps, a new cook book produced by the owners of a local tea room near Ripon. It’s in one of my favourite parts of the world, and I ran the Burn Valley Half not far from there in the summer. So I’m delighted to have a copy of the book to give away to one of you lovely people!

In Their Footsteps is the debut cook book from The Burdon family, who own the amazing Jervaulx Abbey and are celebrating 25 years of making delicious homemade food in its tea room. The book features over 50 recipes (including a range of dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan options), bringing together old favourites and contemporary creations. It’s a collection of recipes the family have shared and developed over the years, perfect for both keen cooks and beginners.

You can recreate the tea room’s award-winning ‘free from’ Raspberry and Almond Cake, perfect traditional fruit scones, or even their show-stopping Millionaire’s Cake drizzled with homemade salted caramel sauce. I suddenly feel I need to pay a visit to Jervaulx very soon!

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of In Their Footsteps, just leave a comment below telling me what’s your favourite cake and why. I’ll pick a winner on the afternoon of Friday 9th November.

In Their Footsteps would be a great Christmas present for any home baker, although you’ll probably want to keep it for yourself! It’s a 144 page paperback retailing £15 and is available to purchase from the Jervaulx Abbey Tearoom, online from www.jervaulxabbey.com, Amazon and www.mezepublishing.co.uk  and in book shops including Waterstones.

 

Race Review – Snowdonia Marathon Eryri 2018

I was really looking forward to running Snowdonia. Twice voted Britain’s best marathon, its route is described as ‘demanding’ and ‘spectacular’ and I’d heard great things about it from those who’d done it. Very tempting! You have to be quick off the mark if you want to enter though, as it’s so popular it sells out in a couple of hours. I entered last December and was making it my main event of the autumn.

The marathon starts and finishes in the small Welsh town of Llanberis. It’s a beautiful little place beside a lake, with fabulous views of Snowdon itself. However, it’s also a pig of a place to drive to on a Friday afternoon during half term! A journey that should have taken us three hours took five, so it was pitch black by the time we arrived at around 7.30. The race is on Saturday, and number pick up is conveniently open until 11 pm on Friday evening. After a pasta supper in our camper van it was pretty much time for bed. People told me it always rains at this event, but the weather forecast for the next day was cold and dry – perfect! Rain battered on the van roof during the night, but was scheduled to stop by early morning. I really hoped so, as I suddenly realised I’d left my running waterproof at home – schoolgirl error!

Sure enough, Saturday morning (thankfully!) dawned freezing but bright. It had actually snowed on the high ground during the night, and the big mountain was looking spectacular. The marathon has a very civilised start time of 10.30, so there was no need to get up at the crack of dawn for breakfast. The start line is on the road just outside Llanberis and the finish is in the centre of town.

With about 2,500 runners taking part there were enough people around to create a buzz, but not so many that things were too crowded. I’d taken an old fleece to discard at the start (any clothes left there are donated to charity) and was wearing some old gloves I was planning to ditch en route. The wintry conditions were certainly a sharp contrast to my last road marathon, the boiling hot London one in April! Steve waved me off at the start, then set off on his mountain bike to pedal up Snowdon. And people say I’m mad!

The Snowdonia Marathon route is mostly on Tarmac, with just a couple of sections at around 10K and near the end on trail. There are three major climbs in it, at around 2 miles, just before halfway and a proper beast a couple of miles from the end!

Running a marathon is sometimes a strange thing. You usually set off feeling great and start to flag towards the end. On this day, I set off in a great mood, but soon started to feel what I can only describe as ‘rubbish’. My legs felt like they had zero energy; my belly was gurgling; I even had a bit of a headache. “Typical”, I thought, “the one event of the autumn where I want to feel my best and I’m struggling already. This is going to be a long day and I’m already wishing it was over!”. I dragged myself up the first climb, which was about two miles long; a gradual ascent that was pretty runnable really, but I was struggling. Fortunately after that we had a few miles of downhill; in fact, in this section you eventually end up lower down than the start! But I knew we’d have to get all that elevation back, and more besides, in a while. Just before six miles we got to the first trail section, which was great; but I still felt that if a car had drawn up beside me I would have happily climbed into it!

In a desperate attempt to give myself a boost I decided to take my SiS Double Espresso caffeinated gel, which I’d originally intended to save for near the end. Miraculously, about ten minutes later I began to feel loads better! I hadn’t had any coffee that morning as we’d forgotten to pack our cafetière(another schoolgirl error) and I suddenly wondered whether I’m so addicted to coffee I simply can’t function without it! Anyway, I perked up big time and really enjoyed the rest of the race.

Runners are really well supported on the course, with refreshment points  every couple of miles. All have water and jelly babies, and in the second half there are points with isotonic drink and High 5 gels. Some also had my current favourite race food, marshmallows. They slip down so easily! The first few miles of the course are traffic-free, but later on the road is shared with vehicles, so you do have to keep your wits about you. Marshals on bikes helped to keep us safe though. I was expecting another huge climb up to the second high point, but the course seemed to undulate rather than give it to you all at once, which was good for me. I was having a great time by now, enjoying the scenery and exchanging words with fellow runners. Then came the dreaded last climb! Initially it wasn’t too bad, but then it kicked up and probably seemed steeper than it actually was on tired legs. Nobody around me seemed to be running, so I didn’t feel too bad about jog/walking my way up it.

At the top we were back onto trail, which undulated for a while; then about the last mile and a half was downhill all the way to the finish! The first part was on trail, which was a little slippery and muddy, so hard for me to let go properly in road shoes, then onto Tarmac as we returned to Llanberis. The road was quite steep, but I was loving it. I still had my ‘disposable’ gloves on, but didn’t want to be wearing them in my finisher photo as they were a bit ratty, so took them off and tossed them to a slightly bemused spectator. As I came to the flat ground in town I suddenly felt twinges of cramp in my calves, but refused to stop and walk at this point. I crossed the finish line feeling elated, as the day had turned out far better than I thought it might four hours previously!

My finish time was 4:45:48 – interestingly, about the same as the flat but hot London! I finished in 1,345th place overall (just over halfway), 284th out of 690 women and 10th in the FV55 category. In the second half of the race I’d moved up over 200 places, which I was quite pleased with. I think participating in quite a few hilly events (mostly Hardmoors) over the last year or so has improved my ability to keep pushing when things get tough.

 

There’s no medal at Snowdonia; instead you get a coaster made of local slate, which I think is a lovely souvenir. We also received a great t-shirt and drink bottle. The post-race refreshments consisted of tea and biscuits in a room so crowded it was impossible to move, but that’s my only very slight niggle in an otherwise excellent event. Would I do it again? Possibly, but maybe not next year as I’m quite keen to do the Loch Ness Marathon, which is around the same time. And I’d allow more time for the journey there!

Entry for Snowdonia 2019 opens on 1st December. If you want to see what it looks like, there’s an S4C highlights programme online here (with English subtitles available). But I guess it might rain next year!